Is Smart the New Mean?

Posted on November 9, 2010


The election is over and I’m busy scraping the mud that got slung by the candidates off of my radio’s speakers. An influx of new money brought on by a recent Supreme Court decision led to some of the most heated and negative campaigns yet. It seems like each election brings a greater level of negativity.

It’s possible though that just maybe we’ve seen that wave start to crest. During a debate the two California Gubernatorial candidates, Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman, were asked by moderator Matt Lauer if they would pull their negative ads. Brown said he would pull all negative ads and run a commercial talking about his plans for the state and nothing else if Whitman would do the same. She declined and was booed soundly by the crowd.

Brown won the election.

Around the same time John Stewart and the crew of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” hosted the “Rally to Restore Sanity,” which mocked Glenn Beck’s recent event in Washington D.C. The premise of Stewart’s rally was that the negative rhetoric in this country has become so loud that the average person, whose opinions tend to be more middle of the road, is being overwhelmed.

In October The Daily Show was the number one show in its timeslot for adults 18-49 becoming the first show to finish ahead of both “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “Late Show with David Letterman” in nearly 10 years.

Now I’m not implying Brown won the election because he was willing to pull his negative ads or that The Daily Show ratings are up because they are preaching common sense but maybe there is a new movement brewing.

Radio has certainly embraced it’s share of negativity. Just look in the playbook; hosts have been known to make the audience do humiliating things to win contests, abuse callers for no reason, slam other hosts and rail on new songs. Some have even made the ever-popular ‘I’m a curmudgeonly host’ persona their whole on-air schtick and that’s just in the music radio chapter. Open to the tab marked Talk-Radio and there is a whole other set of plays to choose from.  

Successful talent are in-touch with their listener’s mood and pay attention to see if it’s changing. If being negative is still the focus of your show maybe it’s time to consider tuning in to your audience to make sure that’s still what they want to hear.